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Paul Gazelka

Minn. Senate majority leader eyes partnerships, negotiations in split state Legislature

ST. PAUL — In the wake of the 2018 midterms, the political landscape has shifted significantly — though, if you asked state Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“For whatever reason, Minnesota seems to like divided government,” he said during a phone interview Monday, Nov. 19. “You know, it’s been pretty common, every one of my years, that Minnesota government in one form or another has the powers divided between Democrats and Republicans. This isn’t out of the ordinary.”

Gazelka — recently re-elected as state Senate majority leader — is staring at the only split state Legislature in the nation, sandwiched between a DFL majority in the state House and a Democrat in the governor’s chair.

Compromise, bipartisanship, deal-making and working relationships are terms that will be tossed around early and often in St. Paul come next legislative session, he noted. While Republicans no longer enjoy the sweeping mandate of a strong majority in both chambers, it will come down to negotiation between sides for a tolerable compromise that best benefits Minnesotans, even if neither side will be able to fully enact its vision for the state.

Gazelka pointed to his prior two years in his role as majority leader, which featured the legislative session in 2016 that he believes stands as the most productive in decades — passing sweeping measures for tax relief, infrastructure funding in roads and bridges, reform for personal IDs and more.

This stands in contrast to how business in St. Paul was characterized for two or three sessions now — faltering, chaotic down the stretch, politics dominated by giant omnibus bills and last-minute backroom deals, as well as a deteriorating relationship between governor and Legislature that led to bills dying on the floor despite bipartisan support.

That’s how Twin Cities outlets reported it and this dysfunctionality was often a topic in the gubernatorial race between Republican Jeff Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz.

For his part, Gazelka pointed to other factors, not policies or petty politics, as a hurdle that tripped up the state Legislature — namely, a rash of complicated and pivotal bills that needed to be addressed in a shortened session, which were then handed over to Gov. Mark Dayton, who no longer had the necessary support staff around him.

“That main things that needed to be done, did get done — with no government shutdowns,” Gazelka said in summation.

Going forward, Gazelka said, it’ll be up to this new state Legislature and governor-elect Walz to forge working partnerships.

He identified passing a two-year balanced budget, tax conformity legislation, health care reform, elder care protections, school safety funding and tax relief for child care providers as focal points for him in coming negotiations with the state House and governor’s office.  

With so much on the docket and so much to be hashed out between a divided legislature, Gazelka said, state lawmakers must work hand-in-hand with the powers that be — whether they’re blue or red, or every shade in between.

“With the divided government as it is now, the negotiations will begin much sooner,” said Gazelka, who noted it’s his goal to pass these bills and balance the budget without raising taxes on a state that has a nearly $1 billion surplus as it is. “These three-way negotiations will begin sooner and finish in a timely manner.”

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